Meta-analysis of molecular imaging of serotonin transporters in ecstasy/polydrug users

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Apr;63:158-67. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.02.003. Epub 2016 Feb 6.


We conducted a meta-analysis on the available data from studies investigating SERTs in ecstasy users and polydrug using controls. From 7 studies we compared data from 157 ecstasy users and 148 controls across 14 brain regions. The main effect suggested ecstasy/MDMA related SERT reductions (SMD=0.52, 95% CIs [0.40, 0.65]; Z=8.36, p<.01, I(2)=89%). A significant effect of subgroups (X(2)=37.41, df=13, p<.01, I(2)=65.3%) suggested differential effects across brain ROIs. Ecstasy users showed significant SERT reductions in 11 out of the 14 regions, including every neocortical and limbic region analysed. Greatest effects were observed in the occipital cortex (SMD=1.09, 95% CIs [0.70, 1.48]). No group effects were observed in subcortical areas of the caudate, putamen and midbrain. Literature on Postsynaptic 5HT2A receptor imaging was synthesised with these results. We conclude that, in line with preclinical data, serotonin axons with the longest projections from the raphe nuclei appear to be most affected by ecstasy/MDMA use.

Keywords: Ecstasy; MDMA; Meta-analysis; Molecular imaging; PET; SERT; SPECT; Serotonin.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molecular Imaging
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine / metabolism*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT2A / metabolism
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT2A
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • N-Methyl-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine